Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 7

Marx then turns to Smith's analysis of surplus value.

Marx begins by again demonstrating Smith's confusion of labour, the product of labour, and labour-power. He cites several passages from Chapter V of The Wealth of Nations, to illustrate the point. In all these passages, Smith flits from defining the value of commodities by the labour-time required for their production, to alternatively the labour these commodities command.

“It can be seen that in all these passages Adam Smith confuses the labour of other people with the produce of this labour. The exchange-value of the commodity which anyone possesses consists —after the division of labour—in the commodities belonging to someone else which he can buy, i.e., in the quantity of someone else’s labour which is contained in them, the quantity of someone else’s materialised labour. And this quantity of the labour of others is equal to the quantity of labour that is contained in his own commodity. As he expressly says: 

“They” (the goods) “contain the value of a certain quantity of labour, which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity.”” (p 75)

In fact, as Marx points out, at this point, what is actually involved here, as a consequence of the division of labour, is not the concept of value, but of exchange value. If I am only producing products, as a direct producer, for my own consumption, the value of these products is determined by the labour-time which I have individually expended on their production, and which is thereby embodied in those products (actually, even here, if productivity is rising the individual value itself is determined by the current reproduction cost). 

Because these products are not being exchanged with others, the question of the manifestation of this value, as exchange value, does not arise. But, as soon as the division of labour results in the exchange of products, and the conversion of these products into commodities arises, the question of any individual labour, embodied in these commodities becomes irrelevant, because, firstly, the value of any commodity is determined, not by any concrete labour embodied within, but by the socially necessary labour required for its reproduction, and secondly, because this value is now expressed as an exchange value, in relation to other commodities whose value is similarly determined.

“The emphasis here lies on the equalisation, brought about through the division of labour and exchange-value, of my labour with the labour of others, in other words, with social labour (the fact that my labour too, or the labour contained in my commodities, is already socially determined, and has fundamentally changed its character, escapes Adam), and not at all on the difference between materialised labour and living labour, and the specific laws of their exchange. In fact, Adam Smith is here saying nothing more than that the value of commodities is determined by the labour-time contained in them, and that the wealth of the owner of commodities consists in the quantity of social labour at his disposal.” (p 75)

But, its here that Smith introduces the confusion between the value of commodities, as equal to the labour they command, or the product of labour they command, not recognising that the two are not the same. Marx quotes Smith.

““His fortune is greater or less, precisely in proportion to the extent of this power, or to the quantity of either of other men’s labour, or, what is the same thing” (here is the false identification) “of the produce of other men’s labour, which it enables him to purchase”. ( [Wealth of Nations, O.U.P. edition, Vol. I, p. 33], [Garnier] l.c., p. 61.)” (p 76) 

But, Smith also writes,

““They” (the goods) “contain the value of a certain quantity of labour, which we exchange for what is supposed at the time [to contain] the value of an equal quantity.”” (p 76)

Finally, this confusion is illustrated by Smith when he writes,

““Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places he estimated and compared” ([ibid., p. 36], [Garnier] l.c., p. 66).” (p 77)

But, as Marx demonstrated in Capital I, labour has no value. To ask what is the value of labour is like asking how long is length? Labour is value, and the quantity of value is the quantity of labour-time. It is not labour that has value, but labour-power, a use value that itself must be produced by the expenditure of labour-time to produce all of those other products – food, shelter, clothing, education, culture, entertainment etc. - required to ensure the reproduction of the producer and their labour-power. This value of labour-power is far from “never varying”.

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